THERE WAS point guard Gilbert Arenas, arriving at training camp 22 pounds lighter than he was at the end of last season. There was small forward Caron Butler, who dropped 11 pounds. Shooting guard DeShawn Stevenson slimmed down 10. Not to mention forward Andray Blatche (five), center Brendan Haywood (seven) and guard Mike James (25). A 19-victory season can leave a bad taste in a player's mouth, but who knew it could kill his appetite? "You can tell that the guys used the frustration of last year to come into camp in better shape," says G.M. Ernie Grunfeld. "They wanted to make sure something like that doesn't happen again."
This is an article from the Oct. 26, 2009 issue
All that weight loss might qualify the Wizards for The Biggest Loser, but the key to their winning again will be Arenas, who played in only two games last season after recovering from a third surgery on his left knee. New coach Flip Saunders is asking Arenas, who was the league's third-leading scorer in 2006--07, to become more of a playmaker this season as well as a more vocal leader. "The younger guys hear from myself and Antawn [Jamison] all the time," Butler says. "But they look up to Gilbert. If it's coming from him, it's going to help tremendously."
Arenas has embraced both challenges. "I don't want him to lose his aggressiveness," says Saunders. "I want him to add to it."
With plenty of firepower in place—including sharpshooters Mike Miller and Randy Foye, acquired from the Timberwolves for Washington's 2009 first-round pick—Saunders is urging his team to muzzle opposing scorers, who shot 48.2% last year, second highest in the league. Saunders wants to cut that number to 45%, and he has challenged Butler to make the All-Defensive team. "Good teams like San Antonio make it hard for you to get to the middle and score from your spots," Butler says. "That takes work. If we're willing to put in that work, we can be a very good team."
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2008--09 statistics